After many years of living and working among us, could we be nearing a new era of togetherness with migrant and British anglers?
Admittedly, some stereotypes still abound. “Hard-working” is about as polite as the casual racist in the pub gets about Poles, Latvians and Greeks. “They eat everything” is the popular moan.
It’s a sign of progress that I can laugh about this with Building Bridges manager, Janusz Kansik. Not so long ago, the clichés got so loud that one of his countrymen actually got a T-shirt printed, saying: “YES, I AM POLISH. NO, I AM NOT EATING YOUR FISH.”
Joking aside, though, have we really taken stock of improvement? Or do some of us revel in assuming the worst? So often these days, EU anglers and Brits are fishing side by side. And while issues still occur, Poles, Czechs and Romanians have bolstered angling clubs and put millions through tackle shop tills. So why do some of us still struggle to admit that immigration can bring big positives as well as difficulties?
Janusz himself has been heavily involved with the Angling Trust’s integration and enforcement project for several years now, having spent over a decade here. Not that he has rose-tinted specs. “The atmosphere of today is completely different,” he says. “There are still issues – but you just have to see how Poles and other nationalities fish to see how far we’ve come.”
An avid all-rounder, he has distinctly Anglicised tastes. “We’re not just lure anglers any more!” he laughs. “You’re as likely to see a Polish guy feeder or carp fishing as casting lures. My favourite fish is probably the barbel.”
Besides deliberate efforts to educate, he sees huge progress from specialist groups, events and the openness of social media. “When I first came to England, there were maybe three Facebook pages from mainly Polish anglers,” he says. “Nowadays there are loads, with all nationalities and methods. Good practice is shared – we’ve learned from the British and vice-versa!”
Even more tellingly, foreign nationals are now doing their bit to help protect fisheries. On recent enforcement patrols at Newark, for example, Polish anglers passed on key intelligence about illegal activity. So, do we still want to tar every migrant with the same brush?
“We’re not saying there are no problems,” says Janusz. “Every community has good and bad. But if you bring people together, things can improve.”
Dare I say it, but some British anglers also need educating. In my own volunteering, it’s overwhelmingly English locals who are ticketless or careless. But would I dream of labelling the whole lot as crooks on that basis? Janusz is more English than I am in this respect. Unfailingly polite, he insists we must both work on the positives and tackle difficulties. “Things have really improved,” he says, “but there’s much more to do. Education works both ways. We can all help – but that has to be about learning from each other. We have our differences, but in the end we all share the same passion for fishing.”
Did you know?
Building Bridges has supported 400+ angling clubs and fisheries, along with 47 schools and countless joint patrols, training sessions and other initiatives.
Less than 10 per cent of fisheries crimes (licence evasion, fish theft) are committed by non-British anglers. This represents a steady drop in the past 10 years.
Catch and release angling is growing in Europe, especially with younger anglers. The Polish carp record (86lb 6oz) is now larger than the UK equivalent!
FIVE GAME-CHANGING STEPS
Besides foreign anglers becoming fluent in English, another huge step forward has been better communication. From multi-lingual signs, to bailiffs and anglers who speak more than one language, far less is now lost in translation.
Educating the next generation
Perhaps the most unsung work of all has been done with schools. Building Bridges alone has reached thousands of school kids of all nationalities, promoting responsible angling and also reaching parents.
Social media gains
Social media platforms have helped to overcome barriers, spawning numerous specialist groups and spreading good practice.
Integration from club to riverbank patrols!
A large number of EU anglers are now active club members and volunteers, helping enforcement efforts. The Voluntary Bailiff Service has more than 40 foreign nationals regularly on patrol, who help police and EA officials.
Major events & competitions
From major lure fishing events to river fishing festivals, it’s now normal for other nationalities to fish alongside Brits, sharing ideas and playing by the same rule book.